President Trump vowed to issue an executive order protecting free speech at America’s universities Saturday as he invited Hayden Williams, a conservative victim of leftist violence on campus, to share the stage with him at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
“We reject oppressive speech codes, censorship, political correctness and every other attempt by the hard left to stop people from challenging ridiculous and dangerous ideas. These ideas are dangerous,” Trump said March 2 in a speech that was interrupted by chants of “USA! USA! USA!” “Instead we believe in free speech, including online and including on campus.”
“Today I’m proud to announce that I will be very soon signing an executive order requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research grants.”
“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many other great young people and old people to speak. Free speech. If they don’t, it will be very costly,” he said. “Every day we’re restoring common sense and the timeless values that unite us all. We believe in the Constitution and the rule of law.”
The president did not provide details about the upcoming executive order. Robby Soave of Reason reports that “an official with knowledge of the executive order confirmed … that a draft exists. Indeed, the plan is to penalize universities that do not protect free speech by taking away their federal grants.”
The announcement came after student leaders from a group of taxpayer-funded universities in Kentucky urged state lawmakers to approve legislation to protect free speech on campus. A letter to lawmakers was signed by 18 student leaders, including representatives of College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, and the Council on Post-Secondary Education. “Across the country, speech codes have been used against students of all parts of the political spectrum,” the letter states.
Williams, a field representative for the grassroots conservative training academy, the Arlington, Va.-based Leadership Institute, briefly joined Trump on the dais at CPAC in a National Harbor, Maryland hotel a few miles from the nation’s capital.
“It’s great that I’m being recognized … but there’s so many conservative students across the country who are facing discrimination, harassment, and worse if they dare to speak up on campus,” said Williams, a black eye visible on his face.
“So I’m glad that we could we could bring this to the forefront and I’d just like to say if these socialist progressives had their way they would put our Constitution through the paper shredder in a heartbeat. So it’s as important now [as] ever, the work at Leadership Institute and Campus Reform, exposing these liberal abuses to the public.”
Williams, 26, was coldcocked Feb. 19 when he was allegedly assaulted by Zachary Greenberg, 28, at the University of California, Berkeley.
At the time Williams was assisting the campus chapter of Turning Point USA at that group’s recruiting table. Turning Point strongly backs Trump. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., headlined the group’s event, “AmericaFest,” on the first night of CPAC, Feb. 28.
Although the attack was captured on video, Berkeley officials abruptly dropped an investigation into the assault and then re-opened it under pressure from conservatives who claimed officials weren’t taking the matter seriously because the victim was a conservative activist. Greenberg was arrested March 1 and charged with assault with a deadly weapon and attempting to cause great bodily injury. His bail was set at $30,000. He is scheduled to appear in court March 4, Fox News reports.
In his animated, well-received address to CPAC that lasted more than two hours –reportedly the longest of his presidency— Trump urged Williams to file suit against his attacker and the authorities.
“Sue him. But he’s probably got nothing but sue him forever. But sue the college, the university, and maybe sue the state. Ladies and gentlemen, he took a hard punch in the face for all of us. Remember that. He took a punch for all of us.”
That may be good advice.
In December, UC Berkeley agreed to compensate Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and Berkeley College Republicans for trampling the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of conservative speakers and students on its campus. The Trump administration sided with campus conservatives against the school. The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest on behalf of the two groups. The department “will not stand by idly while public universities violate students’ constitutional rights,” Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand said at the time.
When conservatives had been scheduled to speak on campus, the campus administration typically didn’t forbid their appearances. Instead, it made the speeches inconvenient to the point of impossibility, for example, forcing students to use venues a mile off campus or at times when students couldn’t attend. Berkeley also often required non-leftist groups to hand over thousands of dollars to defray security costs, a requirement not rigorously or consistently imposed on left-wing speakers or groups.
An aggressive crackdown on non-leftist speech came after Berkeley officials—emboldened by a violent Antifa mob blocking a Feb. 1, 2017 campus appearance by firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos—decided to formalize viewpoint discrimination in the school’s policy on speakers.
Around that time, Trump threatened to withhold federal funds from Berkeley.
“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Trump tweeted Feb. 2, 2017.
The speech, which was sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center (publisher of FrontPage), never happened. Police stood down and allowed left-wing students and activists to “no-platform” Yiannopoulos because they didn’t like his views. Demonstrators caused $100,000 in damage to the campus and several times as much damage to the surrounding town.
The continuing threat of violence by Antifa at Berkeley also led to the cancelation of a planned on-campus premiere of a documentary film this writer executive-produced, America Under Siege: Antifa, during Yiannopoulos’s planned Free Speech Week at the school.
Under the terms of the out-of-court settlement attorney Harmeet K. Dhillon reached with Berkeley, the university was to pay YAF $70,000, rescind its unconstitutional “high-profile speaker policy,” rescind its viewpoint-discriminatory security fee policy, and abolish its heckler’s veto—protesters are no longer allowed to shut down conservative expression.
Berkeley is no longer able to impose a 3:00 p.m. curfew on conservative speech. Nor is it allowed to ban advertisements for YAF-sponsored campus lectures or relegate conservative speakers to remote or inconvenient lecture halls on campus while giving leftist speakers access to preferred locations.
At CPAC, Trump praised the conservative activists in the audience.
“Young Americans like you are leading the revival of American liberty sovereignty and self-determination in the face of left-wing intolerance. The anger, the unbelievable anger. I see it every day. Fortunately for you it’s mostly pointed at me. You have the courage to speak the truth. To do what is right. And to fight for what you believe and keep doing it.”
This article by Matthew Vadum appeared March 4, 2019, at FrontPageMag.